Normally, all speakers need amplification to work. Most of the time, speakers are connected to an external amplifier to get powered to vibrate and produce sound.
However, this kind of speaker that needs external amplifiers to function is known as “passive speakers.” Some speakers do not rely on external amplifiers to work. These are called powered speakers or active speakers.
If you happen to have a set of powered speakers, you already know your powered speakers do not need an external amplifier but you may want to ask, “do powered speakers need a receiver?” read on to find out.
What Exactly Are Powered Speakers?
Powered speakers are already designed with inbuilt amplifiers in their cabinets. They’re self-powered by their inbuilt amplifier so they no longer need external amplifiers or receivers to work.
Instead, you only need to connect your powered speakers to music sources, such as CD/VCD/DVD players, turntables, and so on. Some modern powered speakers boast of Bluetooth connectivity.
That means you can stream music wirelessly from most mobile devices or play your favorite playlists and podcasts from smart devices.
Though the terms powered speakers and active speakers are often used interchangeably, they are truly different from each other. Both speakers usually go in a pair.
In a pair of powered speakers, it’s only one of the speakers that have an inbuilt amplifier. The speaker with the inbuilt amplifier powers the other speaker, which is a passive speaker and is connected via a speaker wire.
In a pair of active speakers, both speakers have inbuilt amplifiers and can stand independently of each other. Each active speaker will also have one amplifier for each driver.
Of the two types of speakers, powered speakers are the most affordable and most common for consumer-rated speakers. Nevertheless, for the purpose of this article, the term powered speakers would be used as a general term for both powered speakers and active speakers.
What is a Receiver?
A receiver is often needed to connect music sources to a speaker. The receiver usually comes with an inbuilt amplifier to boost the audio so that it can be played by the speakers.
Some receiver models, especially the older ones, have inbuilt preamps too. The receiver also has several inputs for the different components, enabling you to connect several sources like turntable, record player, CD/VCD/DVD player, TV, and so on at the same time.
Hence, a receiver can be said to also be an amplifier but with several extra inbuilt features.
Do Powered Speakers Need a Receiver?
No, powered speakers don’t need a receiver. As stated above, powered speakers have inbuilt amplifiers, so they don’t require a separate amplifier or receiver. Although by design, powered speakers do not need a receiver, you can still use a receiver with powered speakers. Read on to know how to go about it.
Firstly, never connect the output terminals (power outputs) on your receiver directly to the terminals on your powered speakers. This is because the terminals on your powered speaker are also power outputs meant to power the other speaker and not power inputs meant to connect to a receiver.
Secondly, to safely connect powered speakers to a receiver, the receiver must have pre-outs or Zone 2 lines (LINE-level analog output). You have to either connect your powered speakers to the pre-outs or the Zone 2 lines.
Don’t forget, you can’t connect powered speakers to your receiver’s normal speaker terminals else you may damage the powered speakers.
How to Connect Powered Speakers to A Receiver
To get started, locate the pre-outs on your receiver (some receiver brands refer to these as “Line Outs”) – this area is marked with a blue border in the image above. Most modern receivers include pre-outs.
Pre-outs are originally included to enable connection with an external amplifier to ease the burden on the receiver. Pre-outs are commonly the only lines that can work with powered speakers. The number of pre-outs a receiver has will determine how many powered speakers can be linked with it.
If you have an older model receiver without the pre-outs, you either have to upgrade your receiver to a model with pre-outs or invest in passive speakers. Connect the two terminals on your powered speakers to the pre-outs of your receiver via the appropriate cables.
Most modern receivers accept inputs from coaxial or optical, RCA, and HDMI cables but mostly standard RCA cables. Speaker wire connectors are recommended for use when it comes to connecting your power speakers with the receiver.
Though this is a bit tedious, it helps to prevent the likelihood of short-circuiting your receiver. It also ensures that your wires do not touch one another. Make sure you connect your power speakers and audio sources before powering on your receiver.
Aside from using the pre-outs, which is the standard way to connect powered speakers, there is another option to connect powered speakers to a receiver – using the Zone 2 Lines marked in a blue border in the image below.
Some receivers have the Zone 2 lines, which can be used to connect powered speakers. Originally, the Zone 2 lines enable you to use a different source in a second area of the home.
For instance, you can decide to stream music in the living room, while the kids enjoy their favorite movie in their bedroom.
As seen in the image above, some receivers have a Zone 2 pre-out and regular Zone 2 output that is powered.
This dual configuration enables the connection of a second amplifier to help power your other speakers or you can directly connect to powered speakers.
As with the pre-outs option, Zone 2 output typically uses standard RCA cables.
The 5 Best Uses for Powered Speakers
- For Bedroom Music Listening: It doesn’t always make sense to install a full stereo system in your bedroom, especially if there is limited space. However, powered speakers with Bluetooth connectivity will enable you to set up two compact speakers on a desk or bookshelf and enjoy music from your laptop or phone. Powered speakers are the easiest and least obtrusive speaker solution for a tight space.
- Apartment and Dorm Living: Compact powered speakers are ideal for cramped residences because receivers can be bulky and heavy. You can add the powered speakers to your TV stand and transform it into a home theater system, without any external amplifiers.
- Backyard BBQs: Outdoor events need a fun soundtrack to liven the mood, but not everyone has the time or money to set up a full Public Address system. With a pair of powered speakers, all you need is a power source and a smartphone to start the party.
- Connecting to Everything: Even if you already have an A/V receiver, it might be outdated, lacking USB and Bluetooth support. Fortunately, the latest powered speakers have inputs for turntables, digital optical, USB, analog RCA, and Bluetooth wireless technology – you can literally connect to everything.
Powered speakers are already designed with inbuilt amplifiers in their cabinets and do not need a receiver to function.
However, if you need to use a receiver with powered speakers, you can only achieve this by either using the pre-outs or Zone 2 lines on your receiver.
If your receiver doesn’t have any of this, you can either upgrade your receiver to a model with pre-outs or Zone 2 lines or invest in passive speakers.